BLOG Mari Ellis Dunnning

NWR Issue 107

The Short Story in Wales, Welsh Academy relaunch, 25 May

Last weekend saw a day of celebration in Aberystwyth’s National Library, where writers, readers and academics came together in support of the short story in Wales. The event was bilingual, with writers such as Geraint Lewis, Caryl Lewis and Aled Jones Williams reading their stories in Welsh, while Francesca Rhydderch read her very Welsh-feeling story in English. For non-Welsh speakers, the beauty and musicality of the Welsh language was enough to make the event enjoyable, although translation was also available.

‘Everything about this place feels like something is going on,’ mused Geraint Lewis about Aberystwyth town. ‘People are always looking for ways to change things, improve things. Nothing does that as well as the writing in Wales.’ Lewis’ story, ‘Mynd Gyda’r Llif’ (Going with the Flow), follows Helen, a woman who finds it difficult to mix with others. The dialogue in this piece, especially when read aloud, captures Welsh chit-chat perfectly.

Francesca Rhydderch (author of The Rice Paper Diaries), read a section of a short story set in Aberystwyth. From the spinning starlings over the pier to her dialogue, her story is intrinsically Welsh, despite being written in English. This, to me, is what the day was all about – the influence of place and location on writing within Wales. There is always an inevitable influence in Welsh-language stories – whether it is deliberate and acknowledged or subconsciously done, writers will always speak of place, through their characters, their settings and the events of the narrative. Rhydderch claims, however, that her stories are character-driven, saying that she puts more focus on character than place when writing. She does, nevertheless, acknowledge the influence of place in her work. ‘I can see that my writing is very rooted in Wales, perhaps more than I even realise,’ she said. Both Rhydderch and Aled Jones Williams cited Kate Roberts as an influence on their writing, particularly in relation to character and place. Being a bilingual writer certainly effects writing: it places the writer in a world of strange, rich and wonderful vocabulary, and creates a unique genre of literature – Welsh-based literature in English.

Aled Jones Williams gave a definite and determined answer of ‘Caerfyrddin’ when asked about his story setting. For Williams, everything happens in and around Carmarthen, the location of the story being essential for him. Place, he said, is where he encounters his characters. His words made me consider the varied ways in which writers approach their work. For some, Wales may be at the forefront of the mind while putting pen to paper, while for others, it may be no more than a backdrop.

Caryl Lewis, using a different approach again, sees her places as characters of their own. The house in her story, for example, is a microcosm of her character’s inner world. Geraint Lewis’ story is set in ‘Tregroes’, a fictionalised interpretation of Tregaron. Although he hasn’t lived there for twenty years, Lewis said he is still astounded by its pull, and always has it in mind when writing.

Once the stories were read and enjoyed, the Academy welcomed national poet Gillian Clarke into the National Library’s Drwm studio, where she was to accept the role of President [Bobi Jones remains the Welsh-language President], following the passing of Daniel Abse. Throughout everything she does, Gillian is always dedicating herself to literature. She is a household name outside of Wales. She represents and champions Wales, its language and its landscape. Clarke was beautiful and eloquent in her graceful acceptance of the title, which she used to speak of Abse and his contributions to literature. ‘He was a supporter of everything and a true friend to writers,’ she reminisced. Clarke read out three astounding poems, which I felt truly privileged to witness. ‘Ty Newydd’ was dedicated to Abse. Afterward, Clarke concluded, ‘Writers can only live forever if we read their work, talk about it, spread it around, remember it.’

Mari Ellis Dunning has just completed a MA in Creative Writing at Aberystwyth University. She regularly blogs on film, literature and arts events for New Welsh Review

New Welsh Academy Fellows welcomed at The Short Story in Wales, 25 May

Matthew Francis - Winner of Southern Arts Prize and shortlisted for Best First Collection Forward Prize for both his first, Blizzard (Faber, 1996), and second, Dragons (Faber, 2001) poetry collections. In 2004 he was named as one of the Next Generation Poets. He is Reader in Creative Writing at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth.

Aled Jones Williams - He is a prize-winning playwright, poet and writer. He was ordained to the Church in Wales in 1980. His book, Rhaid i ti Fyned y Daith Honno dy Hun, was shortlisted for the Wales Book of the Year award in 2002 and he won the Crown at the National Eisteddfod in the same year. His novel, Eneidiau (Souls) was selected to the Wales Literature Exchange Autumn 2013 Bookcase and shorlisted for the Wales Book of the Year award in 2014.

Ifor Thomas - Ifor has won the John Tripp Award for spoken poetry and has been a prizewinner in the Cardiff International Poetry Competition. His collections include Body Beautiful, Parthian 2005. This collection was shortlisted for Welsh Book of the Year.


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